Thursday, October 30, 2008

Interview with a Vampire Judge

The Nov08 issue of St. Anthony's Messenger has an interview with the chair of the National Review Board, Judge Michael Merz. It's an eye-roller. Eye started to gravitate upward with this section on bishops in non-compliance with the Charter:
Q. Can anything be done to compel them to participate? Is it that the eparchies do not feel that they must respond to directives of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops since they represent Eastern Catholic Churches?

A. No, I don’t think it’s that. Audits are not cheap. Eparchies cover a lot of geographical territory, which makes the audits more expensive. The 2007 audit was accomplished by having one or two auditors on site in each diocese/eparchy, under the direction of the Gavin Group.

The Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, is a case unto itself. They don’t participate either in the audits or in providing data to CARA. Bishop Fabian Bruskewicz says he is observing the canonical norms, as he is obliged to do by the law. [Bishop Bruskewicz says that following the Charter is optional.] I suppose he thinks he is answerable to only the pope. Why would anyone insist on his personal prerogative when what we are dealing with is the protection of children? I don’t understand.

In my letter which accompanied this report to Cardinal Francis George, the president of the bishops’ conference, I said that Bishop Bruskewicz’s refusal to participate, “though undoubtedly within an ordinary’s canonical power, scandalizes the faithful.”
The judge makes a good distinction with Eastern-rite eparchies' logistical difficulties in completing audits and achieving compliance. But beyond that it doesn't take much for him to reveal his managerial impatience and bias. Clearly, he believes the Charter to be a near-flawless piece of ecclesiastical legislation when it's not even particular law. He doesn't distinguish between the Charter and the Essential Norms (intentionally or ignorantly?). I'm already starting to smell that "I'm a John XXIII Catholic, not a JPII Catholic" attitude. As for "scandalizing the faithful," so is moralistic politics. The Judge already starts to lose objectivity here. All positive law, especially one as hastily drafted and politically forced as the Charter, is imperfect and demands caution. I don't think we should be told that a bishop is a scandal simply for refusing to comply with the Charter. Show me, don't just tell me. Otherwise, respect the episcopal office.
Q. Was it the seminary training they had?

A. The preponderance of offenders reported in the “Nature and Scope” study are priests who were trained before Vatican II. Nobody coming out of the seminary immediately began abusing. There’s a lapse time for everybody. And we’ve got to figure out why.

That is why it is really important to do a serious social-science study of the pattern, instead of accepting people’s off-the-cuff explanations, like suggesting that the sexual revolution hit Catholic priests the same as everyone else, but 10 years later. Or suggesting this all could have been avoided if Catholic priests were allowed to marry. Or suggesting gay priests be eliminated. None of these things will explain the data we now have.
Alright. Judge Merz is now coming off the rails. First of all, it says everything that he believes more social science is what the Church needs. The Linacre Centre publishes an entire book on the effects of the Church's evaporating asceticism after Vatican II, which everyone, including the National Review Board of primarily liberal Catholics, ignored, yet Merz would lump such approaches in with all those "off-the-cuff explanations." The greatest flaw of the Review Board was that it is composed of secularized, technocratic, Americanist Catholics who know nothing about the Catholic Tradition (but presume to know everything) and who place ultimate faith, hope, and love in the triumph of Science and instrumental rationality. Judge Merz's comments here only corroborates my impression.
Q. Is that the reason for the upcoming “Causes and Context” study?

A. Yes, that’s precisely what we’re studying. The “Causes and Context” study is ongoing, but needs more funding. The bishops pledged a million dollars for this study, and have already released, I think, $400,000. There are other sources from which we are trying to raise the money. We’ve made applications to several federal agencies that would ordinarily fund studies of this kind, like the Centers for Disease Control. And we have made some requests to various foundations and individuals who are known to contribute to Catholic causes. So at present we are not expecting to have to go back to the bishops for more money.
There are few better indicators of a secularist technocrat than the belief that throwing huge sums of money at a problem is some necessary precondition for effectiveness and success. Did you catch that? We need the Center for Disease Control to help us figure out why priests rape young men. Disease control???!!! Notice also the confidence Merz accords to our 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations to do what the Church presumably cannot do. Nonprofits are another green zone in American politics for ideologues to access the reins of the Church. With the abuse scandal, secularism is digging its claws deeper into our Apostolic Church. But Judge Merz is a graduate of Harvard College and Law School, so who cares what the Fathers of the Church and their present-day representatives might have to say about these things, especially when those reps today are abandoning their own traditions and bowing the knee to the "expertise" of "lay faithful" who drool after a "democratic" Church.
I believe, however, we need to do some serious scientific study of the effectiveness of these programs. Once we’ve got the “Causes and Context” study fully funded, that will be our next research goal. We’ve had some preliminary discussions with top experts in the country about designing an effectiveness study.

The Catholic Medical Association recently denounced safe-environment training as ineffective. I found their study disappointing. All they did was a literature review of programs in public schools in the 1980s. We had offered to collaborate with them, but they were not interested in collaboration. Their review of the literature was highly selective. If you want to find out whether a program works, you test kids before they take the program and then you test kids after and you see if there is a change in their awareness and you see over time what the changes in reporting are.

Dr. David Finkelhor of New Hampshire reviewed some of the more recent studies for us [the National Review Board]. One conclusion he reached was that safe-environment training may not prevent the first incident of abuse, but it teaches kids to call abuse by its right name and it gets them to report a first instance. Then we’ll have an intervention in the abuse career of the perpetrator and get him off the street, rather than having repetition after repetition.
So not even the Catholic Medical Association (which happens to have a good reputation of respecting Catholic orthodoxy) has enough "scientific" authority and expertise for Judge Merz. More "training" and "studies show" lingo. Catholic kids are just mechanistic objects of social engineering, not souls who may be negatively affected by premature exposure to slipshod secularist models of sex ed.
Q. Should the fact that 82 percent of the victims who have reported abuse were male and 18 percent were female send up a red flag about homosexuality as being part of this whole issue?

A. Whether the flag is red or not, it’s a data point that definitely has to be considered. It is a different pattern from society at large. Typically, we know from victimization studies about child abuse outside the Church, in society at large, that girls are more likely to be abused than boys and, in addition, that boys underreport abuse. The fact that we have such a high percentage of abuse of males is definitely something that needs explanation.

In the “Causes and Context” study, we hope to figure out the extent to which this is opportunity, the extent it is sexual orientation. When we were kids, it would have been more likely our parents would have let me, a boy, go for a weekend on a camping trip with a priest they knew, than you, a girl. That’s likely to be some piece of the explanation.

Q. Are there other things which make the pattern of abuse in the Church different?

A. This is not classic pedophilia in many ways, although there’s some of that. A few of the abusers have abused lots and lots of little kids. Almost 50 percent of the offenders that we know about offended only once—or at least we know about only one offense they committed. And the bulk of the offenses are against 10- to 14-year-olds. Most true pedophiles prefer their victims younger than that.
Ahhh, a glimpse of sanity.
Q. Is a new Church growing out of this mess?

A. I think we are making good progress. I am very encouraged in a couple of places. There are reformers saying, “We ought to watch bishops more carefully.” An important step in the right direction is serious lay involvement in the Church. The diocesan financial councilors should have been taken more seriously. Nobody in the Vatican has told the U.S. bishops, “We don’t want any more of that National Review Board—get rid of those people.” That’s a good sign.
So much for sanity. Back to "We Are Church" and "Call to Action." Not a single mention of prayer, ascetical formation, discipline, or virtue. No, lay leadership will solve all. Once the Catholic Church looks like the Episcopal or Presbyterian churches, all will be well.
Transparency in the Church has to be learned as a way of life. That is part of what Teresa [Kettelkamp, the executive director of the bishops’ Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection] meant in her cover letter to this report when she spoke about incorporating the Charter and its articles into the daily fabric of the Church.
Transparency, si; incorporating the Charter into my daily fabric, NO! Has the Charter really replaced the Breviary? Cuz if it has, then the Catholic Church is just a figment of Merz's nostalgia. Good for fodder in novels like Angela's Ashes or movies like Exorcist, not worth much else.